[This blog is a specific response to a question that was fielded by someone beyond MBC, however, it helpfully speaks into a between-the-testaments mini-series I had been publishing in our C2C series]
When I visited Jerusalem a number of years ago, one of the men in my group caught ‘Jewish Fever,’ an unusual fixation with Judaism and the desire to become Jewish. It was the most bizarre thing. He started wearing a kippah (hat), eating Kosher and observing other Jewish rituals. He completely broke off from the group of Christians he had come with for the duration of his stay. What made this all very strange was he professed to be a convert to Christianity and had originally come from a Hindu background in India! Jewish Fever can make people do some strange things.
Yet this ‘Fever’ has another manifestation outside of Israel, among those professing Christians who take a fancy to all things Jewish, as if being Jewish, was a superior form of spirituality and practice to that found in the Christian faith: they come to meet on the Jewish Sabbath rather than the Lord’s Day, begin to observe Jewish customs and festivals and food laws, etc.
I want to contend why, in part, for ethnic Jewish-Christians, a continuation of aspects of their culture is appropriate, and why Jewish Fever is generally misguided and unhelpful for Jewish/Gentile-Christians.
This is founded upon the believer’s new identity in Jesus Christ under the New Covenant, as the fulfilment of past Biblical promises and covenants. The new has come, the old has passed (Mt 9:17; Isa 42:9). The Gospel is for the Jew first and then the Gentile (Ro 1:17). There is now no distinction between [the believing] Jew or Gentile, we’re all one in Jesus Christ (Gal 3:28). In fact, Paul says, a Christian (whether ethnically Jew or Gentile) is a true Jew in a spiritual sense and child of Abraham (Gal 3:7).
The Christian (ethnic Jew/Gentile) is in fact part of the New Covenant community of faith, which fulfils the former visible community of faith (the Jewish nation, see Ro 9–11). The Church is the realization of promises from Jer and Ezk of a New Covenant (Jer 31; Ezk 36).
The Law of Moses was the guardian (Gal 3:24); but Christ has come and it has passed (Mt 5:17–18; Lk 24:27; 2 Cor 1:20; Heb 8:13) and the believer (Jew/Gentile) is now part of a far better Covenant (Heb 8:6). The Old Covenant had certain practices associated with it; these were fulfilled in Christ. Those that were morally universal are now what the NT describes as the Royal Law. As for others, Sabbath gave way to the Lord’s Day; food laws to distinctive holy lifestyle (Col 2:16; Mk 7:19; Acts 15:20–21); covenant signs and festivals to worshipping in Spirit and truth and embracing New Covenant practices and principles and signs (i.e. the Great Commandment; Great Commission; Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, etc).
There is of course great continuity between the Covenants (e.g. grace through faith), however, there is great discontinuity (e.g. the essence of the Covenant and its sign—baptism).
In all this it must be remembered that the early Church was: first exclusively Jewish (Acts 11:19); then largely Jewish (Acts 9:20 [Paul’s strategy of synagogue preaching]; Gospel of Matthew, Epistle to the Hebrews, etc); and yet it—in varying degrees of speed—embraced its New Covenant image; it ceased to be religiously or visibly Jewish as it understood Christ.
So, a new identity, a new community and new community markers.
For Ethnic Jews
Now what happens if you are ethnically Jewish and you come to Christ? Do you give up all of your cultural-religious heritage? Religious, yes; but not your cultural, where appropriate.
Consider this. You’re culturally-Canadian and come to Christ. You get to keep your God honouring cultural practices (hockey as a sport) but not those that dishonour Him (hockey as an idol). Or you are a tribal African. You get to keep your love of hunting, but you give up its associations with animism. It is similar to how I would view Judaism, the Jewish-believers keeps those practices that align with the New Covenant/Christ/Christianity and jettison or modify those that do not.
Anything that is retained must be upon cultural grounds and not religious, for now they are in Christ.
What about those who have “Jewish Fever”?
It really is as odd as someone who is Japanese trying to pretend they are German; a Zulu a Russian; an American a Brit!
Jewish Fever, for reasons already mentioned, is religious nostalgia, spiritual backwardness, regressive, counter-productive, misguided. At its worst it can be divisive or elitist (as seen in the NT). It is pretending to be something you are not (if you are a Christian), and placing stock in something that Christ doesn’t commend. The heart of Paul’s letter to the Galatians addressed these matters: we are justified by faith in the Gospel and from the Gospel flows Christian practice. To be obedient to an obsolete law is not Gospel centric, at best it is foolish, at worst it is another Gospel.
At our evening service this past Lord’s Day an interesting question arose, did Jesus or John speak the words of John 3:16?
This was something I did not even notice because I don’t use a red letter Bible and my quotation marks in my ESV are so small! (I evidently wasn’t wearing my glasses). I had always presumed this verse was John’s commentary upon the story of Jesus and Nicodemus.
In the Greek original there are no quotation marks here and so the question is left to the translators. Here is how it breaks down in some common Bible translations:
Those that have it as Jesus: NLT, ESV, NASB, AMP, HCSB
Those that have it as John: NIV, BSB, BLB, KJV, NKJV, CSB, ASV, CEV, GNB
So more have it as John than Jesus, but the division is comparable. Evangelical Bible commentaries also seem to be divided on the matter.
There are no major doctrines that are effected whether this was spoken by John or Jesus; ultimately John’s words are Christ’s (1 Ti 3:16; 1 Pe 1:11). There are minor issues of how we might interpret the words, like if I say the same thing or you say the same thing; however, these won’t break the bank.
I have always taken these as John’s words because they read like the introduction to John, they are explanatory (rather than progressive). John often takes time as the narrator to interject his [inspired] thoughts. There is also a tense change, which points away from Jesus and to John. Jesus also never referred to Himself as, “the only begotten Son,” but rather John does. It seems to me that John is explaining, or expanding upon, what Jesus and Nicodemus had been conversing about.
However, it is such a minor matter than I’m certainly open to alternative views.
In our C2C reading today we find a famous phrase of John the Baptist. Referring to Jesus as the Messiah who would come after him he said, “the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” (Jn 1:27).
Stooping down to untie sandals (and clean feet) was the job of servants. John, recognizing his own sinful unworthiness (even as the greatest of OT prophets!) and Jesus’ incomparable greatness, he did not presume that he was worthy but frankly acknowledged that he wasn’t; not even worthy to untie His sandal. John knew he was beneath the rank of a servant before the Christ.
Yet, because John also said Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (v. 29) and Christ Himself bid John to rise and baptize Him, those who trust in Christ can have hope. We have hope that though unworthy, because of Christ’s grace through faith, we can rise from sub-servants to indeed be friends of God (Jn 15:14–15).
What amazing grace! May we trust in Him and serve Him with gratitude.
In the early Church there was a man by the name of Marcion (c. AD 85–160), who stands for us not as an exemplar but as a warning. Marcion held to a number of grave errors. He held a dualistic view of matter and spirit and saw all physically things as evil (vs. Genesis that says God created all things as “very good”). He also dismissed the Old Testament and any Jewish portions of the New Testament as irrelevant, unnecessary, and again, evil. These two errors stemmed from the third, his view of God. Marcion believed that the god of the OT and the god of the NT were in fact two different gods. One was filled with wrath and anger (the OT god) and the other with love (the NT god). Marcion was a gnostic, a complicated religious view that essentially believed a secret knowledge [gnosis= knowledge] was necessary for the spirit to find salvation and escape the body. Though originally a part of the church in Rome, he was condemned as a heretic for these pernicious lies. However, parallel gnostic churches arose and co-existed with orthodox ones for many years.
The older I get and the more I study history the more—on the whole—I am convinced that there is “nothing new under the sun.” Like Marcion, there are many today who believe—if not explicitly at least implicitly—that the god of the OT is a different god than the NT (and if they were following C2C would rejoice to have left the drab and dreary OT behind them and be in the bright and cheery NT).
Not only does this view fail to comprehend the grand story of salvation history, seeing, instead of continuity, discontinuity; it also fails to see God’s character as more than merely loving. It fails to see the characteristics of God so hated in the OT in the NT and the characteristics of God so cherished in the NT present in the OT. The same God is in fact God of and in the OT and the NT.
For example: in the OT God shows grace and not wrath (full wrath) when Adam sinned; He began a rescue plan to save mankind through Abraham’s descendant. When the Israelites made a Golden Calf, He did not destroy them all but only judged the perpetrators. In the face of spirals and circles of evil in Judges and Kings He showed patience. All of this is why the resounding chorus of the OT, and you’d be deaf not to hear it, is expressed in Ps 103:8: The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (c.f. Ex 34:6).
Turning to the NT when God, expressed in gentle Jesus meek and mild, is supposed to be woolly love (a love Biblically unrecognizable), while finding great displays and teachings on love, forgiveness, mercy, etc, we also find words such as:
Do you see the point, why Marcion was dead wrong on a fundamental point and why so many progressives and liberals are today? The God of the OT is the same as the God of the NT, one and the same Father, Son and Holy Spirit: full of justice and grace, truth and love, wrath and mercy.
As we continue in C2C and go about our lives may we never forget the perniciousness of this ancient heresy, often expressed today, but unveil it for what it is: gravely mistaken.
What is it? Isn’t it Catholic or something eastern mystics do?
We’ve come acrossed it in our C2C journey through the Bible, most recently in relation to Ezra and Esther. Both these Biblical figures called God’s people to fast.
On Feb 1, 1793 the Republic of France declared war on Great Britain. The dangers of revolutionary France, not least of which was its godlessness and explicit anti-Christian tenor, troubled Europe. So Britain led other European nations in the 1st coalition which sought to contain the spread of this movement.
The trouble was that France was powerful and Britain did not emerge the leading power until 1815; at this point British triumph was not a forgone conclusion. France was a larger country, with more people and a larger military. Only 50 miles separated the two countries. On the other side of the English Channel was a bunch of riled up Frenchmen with guns!
As part of the war effort King George III immediately declared a national fast day for April 19, 1793. The populace was to abstain from food and attend religious services with “Fasting, humiliation, and the imploring of divine intercession” to be the aim of the day. Churches everywhere and of all stripes took up the Kings call, including Baptists.
It is a great tragedy that today no government would do such a thing (for Covid!); instead we seek to lean on our own ingenuity and strength instead of imploring/seeking/fasting.
Numerous Biblical characters fasted:
Moses fasted before receiving the 10 Commandments (Dt 9:9–18); David fasted in repentance and for his child’s life (2 Sam 12:1–23); Elijah fasted when he fled from Jezebel (1 Ki 19:4–8); Esther fast for the safety of the Jews before going to King (Est 4:15–17); Darius fasted or Daniel’s safety when he had been thrown to the lions (Dan 6:18–23); Daniel fasted that God might help him to understand a vision (Dan 10:1–3); Jesus fasted before His temptation by Satan (Mt 4:1–2); Paul fasted after his conversion (Acts 9:1–9); the early church elders fasted before sending out missionaries (Act 13:1-3); on & on the list goes. It is a great theme of the Bible being mentioned 132 times!
The exemplars of the faith fasted; do we?
Rather than some foreign or optional spiritual discipline, Jesus expected His followers would practice this spiritual discipline of fasting. Speaking of fasting without great fanfare and self-attention, He said:
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Mt 6:16–18
Notice Jesus said, “when you fast;” it was an expectation. What Jesus took issue with was not fasting but why and how people were fasting.
Jesus expects we will pray and fast (in secret, or at least—in the case of a public fast—in humility) and when we do there will be great benefit.
At its heart, and why it is associated with prayer, is that it symbolically and spiritually is an act of humility, or entire dependence upon God. It reminds us of our need of Him and working with faith is a something the Lord is pleased to bless (Isa 66:2b).
Fasting is not a form of weight loss!
However, there are many and a variety of reasons to fast: for protection (Ezra 8); in distress and grief (Jud 20:26); in repentance (1 Sam 7:6, Joel 2:12–13); for spiritual strength: to overcome temptation or to dedicate yourself to God (Mt 4:1–11); to strengthen prayers (Mt 17:21); to encourage love and worship (Lk 2:37); for guidance/ help in important decisions (Acts 14:23); to help build intimacy with God (James 4:8); to develop spiritual self-discipline (1 Cor 9:27).
If you have never fasted before, allow me to offer a couple practical considerations:
When not to fast? (these are not meant to be excuses)
How to fast…
The spiritual discipline of prayer & fasting have been hallmarks of great and godly Christians and times of great spiritual revival in churches and across nations.
Before crossing the Jordan, Joshua told the people, “consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”
Spiritual complacency and mediocrity stand in the way of God doing great things among us. It is only when we set ourselves apart to humbly seek His face, intentionally & systematically imploring the LORD’s favour, that we can reasonably expect the LORD to do great things amongst us!
Fasting is of paramount importance to the Christians toolkit to facilitate this great and noble aim. May the Spirit empower us to rise to this challenge and be obedient to Christ’s words, “when you fast”.
Apocrypha means “the things hidden away.” Jews used to hide old copies of revered books rather than burn or destroy them. As a result the term came to be synonymous with highly esteemed. Thus the Apocrypha originated as highly esteemed books that weren’t Scripture. There were 12 (or 15, depending on how they are divided):
When Jerome was compiling his Latin version of the Bible based off of the Hebrew, (completed c. AD 405) he followed the Greek tradition to insert them, however, he included prefaces that stressed their deuter-canonical (sub-canon) status of these books—that they were not Scripture and that the Hebrew list of Scripture represented the “clean jar”:
As, then, the Church reads Judith, Tobit, and the books of Maccabees, but does not admit them among the canonical Scriptures, so let it read these two volumes for the edification of the people, not to give authority to doctrines of the Church.
This distinction was lost on many and throughout the Middle Ages and numerous Roman Catholic doctrines were built upon references in the Apocrypha. For examples:
In review there are 5 reasons to reject the Apocrypha as Scripture (however helpful it may be historically):
There is great importance in defining what is the authoritative and inspired canon/rule of the Christian faith. This is why historic Baptist statements of faith, including our own, specify the number of books that make up the Bible, including the OT:
Now you know!
As we conclude our Old Testament (OT) portion of C2C here in 2020 there are a couple important questions that we might consider.
Why does the Jewish OT or Bible (called the Tanak), differ in its arrangement of the books from the Christian OT?
When was the Old Testament canon (rule of faith) finalized and how?
Though somewhat technical questions it is hoped that in answering them believer’s will be strengthened in their knowledge of the Scriptures and thus their faith.
Here is the order and books of the Christian OT and Hebrew Bible (the TaNaK, see Bible Project). Essentially the OT is broken into four sections, whereas the Tanak is divided into three. (It is interesting to note Jesus referred to this trifold division in Lk 24:44):
Notice they are the same number of books (39) but in a very different order. Why the difference, especially if this was the accepted order of the Hebrew Bible in Jesus day?
Sometime in the 3rd and 2nd centuries there arose a large Jewish community in Greek speaking Alexandria (Egypt) who translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek. It is called the Septuagint or LXX (both mean 70) after the legend that 72 independent translators (6 from each of the 12 tribes) translated the entire project identically (thus giving evidence of Divine oversight). What is true is that they re-ordered the Hebrew Bible so the Hebrew and Greek versions, though containing the same books, were ordered differently. The Greeks, ever the masters of logic, categorized the books under headings, and many books under those according to length. As this video explores, the Hebrew Bible had other historic and theological reasons for how it was arranged. It is also interesting how the arrangements end, the Hebrew with Chronicles (itself a summary of the Tanak; a return to the Promised Land and a prefiguring of Christ) and the Greek with Malachi (the promised day of the Lord).
Though Jesus would have known the Hebrew order, most of the early Christians spoke Greek and so followed the Greek version. When Jerome translated the Bible into Latin by AD 405 he followed this tradition and so the Greek pattern was all but established as the Christian ordering.
Canon is Greek for rule. What books are recognized as inspired and authoritative? The Jewish community, guided by the Holy Spirit, came to recognize the above list as canonical some 200 years before Christ, who affirmed the same in Lk 24:44 (along with multiple other sources).
Regardless of the order, as Christians we can be confident that our OT books have come to us under God’s sovereign hand, and that these books, and these alone, constitute our rule of faith as the Old Testament; or as 2 Tim 3:16b puts it are therefore the “inspired word of God, profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
Now you know!
So that it isn’t simply a big black hole, allow me to recount the basics of the story between the Testaments.
The last book of Malachi was written sometime around the era of Nehemiah in the post exilic period (c. 450s). From this period—for some 400 years—the prophets were silent. During this period Judea was often ruled over by a series of empires: the Persians who then fell (c. 331 BC) to Alexander the Great and the Greeks; and following the breakup of his empire into smaller ones, first the Ptolemaic Empire (Egypt) followed by the Seleucid Empire. This Greek period lasted from 331–164 BC. The Greeks brought their language and culture, which would be so important during the New Testament period. The Hebrew Scriptures were even translated into Greek by Jewish scholars in Alexandrea (Egypt), so dominate was the language. However, the Jews in Judea rebelled when the Seleucids set up “an abomination” in the Temple and the Jews were forbidden to practice their religion. An aged priest, named Mattathias and his five sons led a revolt. After his death his eldest son, Judas Maccabeus, continued and won independence in 164 BC. From the Greeks, Persians and Babylonians, all the way back to King Jehoiakim/Zedekiah, this was the first time the Jews had been independent in centuries.
However, there was nothing new under the sun; their hearts remained unchanged. During the Maccabean period, successive rulers became increasingly authoritarian, corrupt, immoral and pagan. This descent became so bad that eventually some of the Jewish leaders invited the Romans—of all people—to come and restore order, which they did in 63 BC under General Pompey. They stayed for centuries to come in an uneasy arrangement. In 37 BC, partly as a political favour and partly because he was partially Jewish, the Romans appointed Herod “the Great” to be king over all of Palestine. He built Caesarea Maritima (where Paul was imprisoned), greatly improved Jerusalem and remodelled the Temple into the exquisite structure it was in Jesus’ day. This was the Herod who slaughtered all the little boys in search of Jesus. The various Herods who appear later in the NT were his descendants.
Now you know!
Even prior to the Premier’s announcement of a lockdown today, Christmas and New Year’s, for many people, was going to look much different than the season of faith, family and merriment that many people often associate with the season. The lockdown announced for Boxing Day will make this an even more difficult season for many.
To put this in perspective (and provide encouragement) and to remember that Christmas is about Christ—that He is all we need for a blessed Christmas or to live a blessed life in the face of trials—let us turn to the first Christmas story to contemplate just how difficult it would have been for Joseph and Mary and how Christ made all the difference.
Though they had no Christmas by which to evaluate their lived experience, the first Christmas was no easy time for Mary and Joseph. Notwithstanding the shame the couple probably faced because of the pre-marital pregnancy, they had to travel away from their comfort zone and support network, from Nazareth to Bethlehem. While not a long distance by modern standards, it was far enough by ancient standards. We might think that because Joseph was “of the house and lineage of David” that he would have had close family to call in on. However, Luke’s silence on this matter leads us to believe that Joseph’s roots were more connected to Nazareth than they were to Bethlehem; otherwise some relative probably would have made room for them. As it stood, homes and inns full because of the census, the couple were all alone in a foreign town and had to take shelter in a stable, “because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Lk 2:7). Bad travel plans, a grotty motel—not to mentioned being 9 months pregnant—it all seemed as if their stay would be a miserable one. But the cherish story of the nativity is far from unhappy because Jesus made all the difference.
Trusting God’s providence in the situation, looking to Him, Joseph and Mary were pleasantly surprise that first Christmas. The promised One of old, revealed as the expected child through prophecies, dreams and visions, finally arrived. The birth of any child has the effect of bringing joy to troubled circumstances; how much greater must have their joy been to welcome the Christ child!? Then unexpected visitors dropped in and told of angelic choirs rejoicing at the Saviour’s birth. God was encouraging the couple. Mary treasured and “pondered these things in her heart” as the shepherds went away “glorifying and praising God.” It is amazing how faith in God’s providence and the presence of Christ can bring joy to otherwise discouraging circumstances!
The Christmas holidays of 2020–21 will certainly be different, but they needn’t be as grim as Satan may tempt us to think. May it be that God is stripping away all of the distractions and adornments of the holidays: goodies, good company, traditions, etc, etc, so that we might focus exclusively on Jesus? As we worship Christ at Christmas may we be filled with all the joy and wonder Joseph and Mary were on that first bleak mid-winter Christmas night, and may we be a light in the darkness.
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you. (Isa 49:15)
Prayer is an interesting thing; wrongly we often think it depends on our works (however anti-works we may be in our theology). Prayer can sometimes go like this: we pray, pray, pray for a situation but time and circumstances bring new things to pray for. Maybe that old prayer is forgotten, or at least doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. Works would say God will not hear or answer that prayer because we haven’t been conjuring up enough pray effort for Him to hear it.
God is a gracious and infinite God; we are fallible and finite. We cannot possibly remember every prayer request or to pray for every situation. There are just too many! However, being infinite, almighty, omniscient, etc, the God of the Bible remembers. He does not forget the prayers of His saints. In His marvellous grace, long after we had ceased praying, He often graciously answers prayers—beyond what we asked—and it is then that we remember a pray of a month, a year, a decade, a lifetime ago, that He was pleased to hear and honour. May we praise Him for this and remember that even though we may forget, God never does.
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.
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